Movie Friday: Miracles for Sale

Do you believe in miracles? Do you believe that our heavenly father can suspend the laws of biology and physics to make seemingly impossible things happen right before your eyes?

Yeah, me neither. But a lot of people do, and while it might seem like the right thing to do is to let people believe whatever they like, we inevitably run into problems when shameless hucksters exploit those beliefs to rob earnest people of the little cash that they have. Enter the world of the faith healer – unscrupulous predators that use cheap trickery and hypnotic suggestion to separate desperate people from their hard-earned money.

Derren Brown, celebrity skeptic and magician, did something that is truly miraculous – he decided to enter the bible belt with a preacher who is admittedly fake, and expose the whole charade as fraud:

The interesting part of the lead-up to the final performance is the number of ethical quandaries the crew finds themselves in. While this bothers the people who are up-front and open about their masquerade, it clearly doesn’t bother the vultures that exploit the conditioning of blind faith in the audience.

A friend of mine once made a really powerful point in a debate he had with a creationist: the advantage of atheism (or at least general skepticism) is that we will never fall victim to someone who tells us that God can heal our infirmities, no matter how badly we want that to be true. Reliance on faith as a means of understanding the world makes you particularly vulnerable to exploitation and deception by slick-talking and fundamentally evil fraudsters.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Tornadoes ravage the bible belt

Many of you may be aware that last night a series of storms tore apart the southern United States, killing more than 250 people:

The death toll from severe storms that roared across the U.S. South has risen to at least 250 across six states with Alabama and Mississippi each reporting increases in the number of deaths in their states. Alabama’s state emergency management agency said it had confirmed 162 deaths, while there were 33 in Mississippi, 33 in Tennessee, 13 in Georgia, eight in Virginia and one in Kentucky. “We expect that toll, unfortunately, to rise,” Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley told ABC’s Good Morning America. The National Weather Service’s Storm Prediction Center in Norman, Okla., said it received 137 tornado reports around the regions into Wednesday night.

I’m going to take a pass at commenting in this story, partially because CLS has already said everything I’d think to say:

But just as their deity is not punishing sinners he is not protecting saints either. Many God-fearing fundamentalist holier-than-thou Republican died this week. Many more had their homes and businesses destroyed. I take no joy in that. I just wish to say that their piety no more protected them than the “sin” of others made them targets. Natural disasters are just that, natural. They are not supernatural events no matter how much some people want to bestow spiritual meaning to these events.

Read the whole article – he really puts a decent touch on the whole thing.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

The barbarians are still at the gates

Twenty-four years ago, a marginally-talented artist decided to make a statement about the way in which religious figures have been misrepresented by their religious organizations. A fine statement, all things considered. This artist decided to express this opinion by encasing a crucifix in a jar of his own urine and called it, somewhat uncreatively, Piss Christ. However lofty the sentiment may have been, the execution is somewhat juvenile and rudimentary. It’s the sort of “shock factor” statement that a high school student would make – like crudely drawing the Madonna fellating the Buddha or something like that. Considering the wide variety of ways in which religious iconography is shown disrespect, Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ is rather tame.

Fourteen years later, Piss Christ is still generating controversy and outrage from idiots. This time, though, the idiots have hammers:

When New York artist Andres Serrano plunged a plastic crucifix into a glass of his own urine and photographed it in 1987 under the title Piss Christ, he said he was making a statement on the misuse of religion. Controversy has followed the work ever since, but reached an unprecedented peak on Palm Sunday when it was attacked with hammers and destroyed after an “anti-blasphemy” campaign by French Catholic fundamentalists in the southern city of Avignon. The violent slashing of the picture, and another Serrano photograph of a meditating nun, has plunged secular France into soul-searching about Christian fundamentalism and Nicolas Sarkozy’s use of religious populism in his bid for re-election next year.

It is so common as to be cliche at this point: someone uses an art medium to criticize a religious subject, and the followers of the “Religion of Peace” du jour decide that their hurt feelings are justification for that work’s destruction. As though the argument hasn’t been forward literally thousands of times that the way to fight art you don’t like is to ignore it, and to encourage others to do the same. Suppression of ideas is a giant waste of time, and so counterproductive as to be almost comical.

Perhaps more frightening is the fact that this complete abdication of reason is being actively stoked by a political entity to gain support. In a country like France, where secularism was literally purchased with blood, it’s chilling to see someone fanning the flames of the conflict between religious people and secular society, especially for something so craven as re-election. It is one thing to discuss and point out differences of position, it is another entirely to turn it into a “they are coming to burn your bibles” situation, as Sarkozy appears to be willing (if not eager) to do.

I am not interested in defending the Piss Christ. I don’t think it takes much talent or imagination to submerge an object in urine. I don’t really see the connection between exhibiting a urine-soaked crucifix and the ostensible message criticizing the misuse of religion. I think there are far more clear and creative ways to get that point across. To my eye, this is the equivalent of a radio shock jock using racial slurs to gin up controversy. However, with their trademark inability to appreciate irony, the religious mob has decided to prove the exact point that the installation is criticizing.

Of course, this is the smashing of a plexiglass container of urine. Anyone wishing to replicate this priceless work of art can send me 50 bucks, a Powerade, a mason jar and a crucifix – I’ll happily provide the rest. While the original work has been destroyed, the statement is alive and the artwork itself is simple enough to reproduce if need be. Smashing it is a shitty thing to do, but it’s not as though the world has lost Michaelangelo’s David or Picasso’s Guernica – if we were really concerned about this priceless treasure, we could make another one, and unless you knew the story of the original you wouldn’t know the difference.

No what is truly frightening is the prospect that there are people who won’t stop at simple destruction of property to express their outrage at whatever imagined light was perpetrated against their Collective Delusion. There are people who are so god-bothered that they feel they have the divinely-granted authority to kill human beings for saying things they disagree with. This is the system that people say humanity can’t possibly do without.

The fact is that rationality has surpassed our need for imagined explanations and intuitions  to govern our society. We can govern ourselves based on secular reason – furthermore, those regions that do this more are doing much better than their less-reasoned brethren. Those who would react to an idea by trying to destroy it, and those that think it, must not be the ones to rule us. They should be thought of, in our walled palace of reasoned thought, as barbarians banging at the gates.

The barbarians are at the gates, and they’re armed with bibles.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Stephen Harper has a magic wall of protection

I’ve written one of my patented, irreverent and (hopefully) funny posts over at Canadian Atheist. Here’s a little taste:

I wasn’t going to say anything, but I had a surefire way to lock up the election and prevent Stephen Harper from securing a majority government. It was, admittedly, a risky gambit, and somewhat… unorthodox. But it has a proven track record of efficacy going back hundreds of years, requires only a minimum of effort, and is nearly foolproof.

Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, I am talking about voodoo…

If you want to read the rest of it, just click on over to the site and check it out. I promise not to disappoint.

We no longer have the Conservative Party of Canada

Once upon a time, Canada had two major political parties – Liberal and Conservative. In the mid-20th century the Conservative party re-branded itself as the Progressive Conservative Party. With its economic stance set somewhat toward the right and its social stance being somewhere in the middle of the road, it catered well to those Canadians who identified as ‘centrists’, and tended its garden on the political right fairly well. However, as the NDP rose to federal prominence, the Liberal party was forced to make a rightward drift. Enjoying national popularity and avoiding divisive issues, the federal Liberal party was able to lay claim to the political center.

Facing obsolescence, the Progressive Conservative dropped the “progressive” label and united with the newly-formed Reform party – a party catering exclusively to those in the right wing – forming the Conservative Party of Canada. Because the far right had been all but ignored by the major political parties, the CPC was able to capitalize on a stumble from the Liberals and form government. Their popular appeal rested firmly on walking a tightrope between “Progressive Conservatives” – those with a conservative economic viewpoint but a centrist social viewpoint, and “Reform Conservatives” – what would be called ‘values voters’ in the United States (as though liberals don’t have values).

The problem with the Conservative party is that their base is fractionated – those who are turned off by hardcore social policy, and those that are growing increasingly tired of being slept on while they try and impose hardcore social policy. Until now, the CPC maintained their solidarity by publicly claiming to be socially centrist, whilst simultaneously whispering promises to the more extreme fringes of their base. Now, it appears that this facade is slipping:

Saskatchewan Conservative candidate says the federal government has decided to cut funding to the International Planned Parenthood Federation, a decision he says was influenced by anti-abortion supporters. The decision on whether to fund the organization has not yet been announced. But Brad Trost, the incumbent candidate for Saskatoon-Humboldt, told the Saskatchewan ProLife Association’s annual convention last Saturday that anti-abortion supporters who signed petitions played a big role. In a recording of his speech, obtained by CBC News, Trost can be heard thanking those who had signed the petitions, saying his office was involved in spearheading the petition campaign along with other members of Parliament.

This is not an economic policy. Cutting funding to an international agency is a tiny drop in a much larger bucket. Canada’s foreign aid spending represents about 0.33% of GDP – falling far short of its pledge of 0.7%. Removing funding for one agency does not meaningfully reduce Canada’s budgetary deficit or national debt. Given the involvement of the anti-abortion lobby in this particular move, there is no conclusion one can reach other than the fact that this is an ideological move against abortion rather than anything that could be called economically conservative.

I won’t bother re-hashing all the arguments against defunding Planned Parenthood, except to say that the only thing this move accomplishes is to make it more difficult for people, particularly women, to get much-needed health care services. Abortions do not decrease when they are made illegal, and Planned Parenthood does not exclusively provide abortions – those kinds of services represent a tiny portion of a wide variety of health care procedures. But of course we are dealing with Conservatives here – facts and reality represent a similarly tiny portion of what informs their policy.

I’m not necessarily opposed to conservativism, although I do think it is a short-sighted and ultimately simplistic world view. Overdone conservatism, like overdone liberalism, can be incredibly destructive. However, a well-struck balance between the two opposite ideologies can move society forward in a sustainable and equitable manner. It is, therefore, with no small measure of sadness, that I am forced to announce the death of the Conservative Party of Canada. While Conservative in name, this party has revealed itself to be nothing other than the northern branch of the Republican Party of the United States.

The ugliest, most small-minded and hateful aspects of humanity are on full and proud display in the Republican party, and the Republican Party North (formerly the CPC) is pinning its future on the idea that Canadians are as stupid and short-sighted as our southern neighbours. Given that the CPC is polling around 40% (which, in Canada’s political system, is a majority – it’s because of the metric system), it appears to be a safe bet.

So if you’re Canadian and you’re not planning on voting in the upcoming election, or if you’re planning on voting Conservative in the upcoming election, please don’t tell me. With things like this happening in my country, I’m not sure I can maintain my trademark personal evaluation from ideological. If you’re so lazy that you can’t be bothered to stand up against the forces of stupid long enough to write an ‘X’ on a piece of paper, or so blinded by sound bytes and easy answers that you think that the Conservatives have anything resembling policies that will have a positive effect on the lives of Canadians, then I’m not sure I can know that about you without taking it personally.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Well I’ll be…

Sometimes – not often, but sometimes – something will happen that catches me completely by surprise:

A [city] church has voted to stop signing marriage licenses in protest of the state of [state]‘s denial of marriage rights to same-sex couples. Douglass Boulevard Christian Church made the unanimous vote Sunday. The Rev. Derek Penwell, senior minister of the church, said it’s unjust that heterosexual but not homosexual couples can benefit from marital rights involving inheritance, adoption, hospital visits and filing joint tax returns, saving thousands in annual taxes.

A Christian church defies not only public opinion but state law to support gay rights. In what bastion of freedom-hating, Democratic liberalism did this happen? Oregon? Massachusetts? Connecticut?

Kentucky.

In 2004, Kentucky voters passed an amendment to the state constitution by a three-to-one margin, banning same-sex marriage and unions and reinforcing what had already been state law. Large religious groups were among the drivers of that amendment, with endorsements from leaders in Kentucky’s two largest denominations — the Kentucky Baptist Convention and the Catholic Conference of Kentucky. The state’s largest congregation, Southeast Christian Church, ran an advertising campaign before the referendum, promoting traditional marriage. Some congregations, however, support the right of same-sex couples to marry and will perform same-sex ceremonies in their services, even though they have no legal standing in Kentucky.

While the gesture is symbolic, it certainly injects some measure of dissonance into the narrative that you can’t be a good Christian and support gay rights. Especially in the American South, with its deeply-entrenched conservative Christian tradition – and the mountains of bigotry that go along with that – someone taking a stand against the tide of anti-gay hatred is a rare and welcome sight indeed.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Good Idea; Bad Idea – the gay edition

And now it’s time for another Good Idea; Bad Idea

Good Idea: Providing counselling and other support to gay kids to reduce their risk of killing themselves

Several international studies have found higher attempted suicide rates among lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) youth compared with heterosexuals. Overall, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 24, researchers say. The study in Monday’s issue of the journal Pediatrics found LBG youth living in a social environment more supportive of gays and lesbians were 20 per cent less likely to attempt suicide than LGB youth living in environments that were less supportive.

I am not gay, nor have I ever had any serious questions about my sexuality or gender. Due to what I hope is just a weird set of coincidences (rather than a subconscious bigotry), I’ve never had any close gay friends. As a result, it’s difficult for me to truly empathize with gay youth. Insofar as being a young person sucks in general, I can connect to my own struggles to establish my identity and my feelings of alienation, but to add to that being a gay kid in a society that still treats being gay as an “alternative lifestyle” rather than simply the way some people are (although, to be sure, this is changing rapidly) – it’s got to be extra tough to be a gay kid.

So perhaps it is unsurprising that living in an environment where you constantly have to question and hide a part of who you are – from friends, from family, to even have to deny it to yourself – makes gay kids more likely to turn to self-harm and suicide. Conversely, being in a place where being gay is seen as just another facet of a person’s identity – like their race, height, sense of humour, whatever – must take an enormous amount of pressure off of gay kids. It would, at the very least, remove some of the alienation and feeling of “otherness” that can come from a non-supportive environment. At its best, it helps balance out the hateful speech coming from various corners of society – equating homosexuality with unforgivable sin or some sort of deep character flaw.

Bad Idea: Sending gay kids to correctional camps to ‘fix’ them

Sixty-six Muslim schoolboys in Malaysia identified by teachers as effeminate have been sent to a special camp for counselling on masculine behaviour. They are undergoing four days of religious and physical education. An education official said the camp was meant to guide the boys back “to a proper path in life”.

Ah yes, we can always count on Malaysia to drag humanity kicking and screaming back into the dark ages – when men were men, women were women, and fags were persecuted and killed for having the temerity to try and live like everyone else does. It is stuff like this that makes me cringe any time someone raises the idea of promoting “traditional gender roles”. For many people, there is no conflict between how they behave naturally and what tradition would dictate. However, there are many others that strain against the expectations of historically-established behaviours. This isn’t simply a matter of education or conditioning; forcing yourself to rebel against instinct – especially in something as fundamental as sexuality, a characteristic that underpins the entire human experience – can be incredibly disruptive.

Picking young kids out of school and sending them to gender re-education camps as a way of stamping out ‘teh ghey’ is about as egregious a breach of trust and duty of care as you can get. The news report suggests that the children are attending voluntarily, but you’ve got to question how ‘voluntary’ it could possibly be when you’re being singled out by your teachers and coerced by your parents for being a little too queer. Of course we know at this point that religious education is almost useless in changing gay kids straight, and gay people can also be in typically “manly” professions – education has nothing to do with it. This is simply psychological abuse perpetrated against those who are the most vulnerable.

I do pick on Christianity for a variety of reasons – chief among them being that I am most familiar with it, and it is constantly all around me. However, for all its flaws as a movement, there are at least some moderate/liberal elements within Christianity that help balance out the more destructive factions. Islam, at least outside of North America, doesn’t have anything that approaches a moderating force capable of balancing out such blatant hatred and stupidity. However, to be fair to the good people of Malaysia, there does appear to be some backlash within the country:

But the women’s minister, Shahrizat Abdul Jalil, said singling out these children based on perceived feminine mannerisms was traumatising and harmful to their mental health. The camp violates the Child Act, which protects children without prejudice, she said.

Once again, it is the women to the rescue. This should help clear up any potential confusion over why I, a straight, cissexual (identifying with the gender into which I was born), man would spend so much time talking about women’s issues and gay issues – because I am not completely insulated from what happens to other people in the world. Despite the various flavours of privilege I might enjoy, I’m still acutely aware that not everyone sees the world through the same lens I do.

When we fail to protect those that don’t count themselves among the majority, we invite those same to fall through the cracks of our neglect.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

One thousand words on objectivism

Which is, perhaps, one thousand more than it deserves

When I was in high school, a friend loaned me a copy of Ayn Rand’s novel The Fountainhead – a lengthy tome about a superstar architect who defies the forces stacked against him to create the buildings that he wants, not the ones that the mediocratic hordes are creating. I remember being enchanted by the idea that someone could stand up for her/himself and refuse to capitulate to the opinions of popular demand. A major part of my personality has been informed (or perhaps reinforced) by the ideas I read in the book – the part of me that speaks my mind unashamedly and tries to be unfailingly honest in expressing my opinions.

Later, I read the Sword of Truth series by Terry Goodkind. While I enjoyed the series (except the last 2 books, which were steamy piles of word salad), the sixth book – Faith of the Fallen – really spoke to me. Its protagonist fights the good fight against a self-destructive ideology that punishes those that work hard and rewards malingerers and the lazy, by inspiring the people to reject the idea that mankind is inherently flawed and unworthy of dignity. This book, too, resonated with my sense that human beings should work hard to achieve, and that hard work and innovation should be rewarded. I was later to learn that the author was a Rand devotee, penning his own view on objectivism.

As I was completing my graduate studies, I read (well, as an audio-book) Atlas Shrugged, another novel by Ayn Rand. It sucked. It was awful. The writing was as stilted and awkward as the plot was circuitous and interminable. The plot twists were predictable, the ending plodding and unsatisfying, and there was a billion-page monologue from one character that could have been shortened to maybe 5 pages. I got none of the thrill that I had enjoyed from the other two objectivist works I’d read.

Reading Atlas Shrugged (a title which, incidentally, doesn’t make any sense since Atlas held up the sky and not the Earth), I lost any allegiance I had to self-identifying as an objectivist. The entire philosophy seemed to be based on a view of the world that is fundamentally flawed – creating false dichotomies and presenting people as caricatures rather than believable characters. Those who advocate for others are grasping, greedy leeches that feed off the righteous generation of resources that is the result of the hard work of an elite few. Those who produce are virtuous, upright, honest and fair-dealing – the only iniquity is seen by those that would attempt to sponge off the upright by exploiting a sense of “altruism” (which, to Rand, is just the application of guilt). Completely unexamined is the idea of someone producing goods by exploiting and abusing those with less wealth, or the idea of someone being given a leg up and turning that opportunity into a productive life. In Randian terms there are only the good guys (producers) and the bad guys (leeches) – and I suppose the hodge-podge of people who do manual labour and are employed by the good and bad guys alike.

Of course this kind of black-and-white world view appeals a great deal to a large number of people – particularly those that are millionnaires already. I’ve talked about this before, but it can be incredibly difficult to see the number of helping hands you’ve had along the way to success, and it’s very tempting to conclude that your achievements were gained simply by the sweat of your own brow. That’s so rarely the case as to be laughable – everyone has help at various stages, just as everyone has difficulties. Some people are born with innate abilities that make them more likely to be successful, others are born into familial privilege and are able to capitalize on opportunities to which others would not have access. There are many others that are born with one of these things but not the other. As we can infer from the type of nepotism, cronyism and pandering we see in our electorate and in industry, it’s much better to have the second than the first.

So what becomes of those who have no connections or privilege? In an ideal world, those that are born with inherent gifts are able to apply those abilities and achieve some level of success – success that can be passed on to their descendents. Ostensibly, that’s how those that are rich today gained their wealth. Those that cannot achieve greatness can at least work hard and have a decent standard of living, commensurate to their human dignity. That is a true meritocracy – where your level of success is dependent only on your natural abilities and the amount of work you put in.

However, we don’t live in a meritocracy. We live in the world – a world in which political favours are given to corporate entities based on lobbying and favouritism rather than who does the best job, and those at the top achieve greater wealth by defrauding those lower on the rung than they would by producing a superior product or service. Objectivism does not apply to a world like this – it speaks only to a world in which the only barrier between a person and her success is the amount of work she puts into her life. When people do not behave like rational free-market agents, objectivism can make no meaningful predictions about the world.

So is objectivism a complete waste of time? Are there no lessons that can be gleaned from Rand’s works? I don’t think that’s the case. Like the axioms of religion or admonishments of metaphysical philosophy, there can be great subjective value to be gained from reading Rand allegorically. Forgetting for a moment her insistence that her books are meant to portray real life events and people, we can certainly empathize with a person against whom the odds are stacked standing up and refusing to compromise her/his vision, provided we also recognize that when our vision impacts the lives of others, they also have a stake. We can recoil from anyone that insists that we have a moral obligation to give up what we have to those that don’t, provided we simultaneously remember that it is in our best interests as members of a society that people have the opportunities to do for self, and that our participation in that effort may be required. We can recognize that “profit” and “wealth” are not dirty words – rather measures of the success of an idea – provided that we scrutinize the practices of the wealthy to ensure that those without wealth are not being exploited or defrauded.

We can make the world closer to meritocratic, provided that we don’t try and take objectivism literally.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Movie Friday: Good Friday

Oooh, it might be a vacation day, but there’s no excuse for this being 3 hours late.

I always found the phrase ‘Good Friday’ bizarre and faintly Orwellian – EASTER is the good part – the redemption and all that. It seems like Friday is the shitty part – the torture, the humiliation, the ultimate death of the protagonist. But of course when you’re dealing with a death cult that is obsessed with human sacrifice, blood offerings, and fixated on the ultimate torture of many for the enjoyment of the few elect, you can throw standard decency out the window.

I think the guys from Monty Python got much closer to an actual Good Friday message.

Happy Easter!

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!

Axioms, beliefs, and ideas

I recently had dinner with a good friend, in which we discussed (among other things) conversations that I’ve had with people whose world views differ sharply from my own. We were not referring to people with different opinions on things – that is an unavoidable consequence of being around other people. What we were talking about were people whose entire view of how the world works is different. Imagine for a moment someone starting with the mindset of a creationist asked to explain some geological finding – while to the rest of us the existence of a 5 million year-old fossil would be sufficient proof that the world isn’t just a few thousand years of age, the creationist would be looking for the flaw in the dating technique – not out of an effort to overtly distort the truth that they simply wish to deny, but because their fundamental understanding of the world does not permit fossils that old.

My friend questioned the value of bothering to discuss issues with people like this. After all, he suggested, there can be no meeting of the minds or resolution of differences in opinion in this kind of conversation. Inevitably the dispute will drill down to the fundamental differences, which cannot be resolved in most cases. Someone who believes, a priori, that the universe has to be 6-10,000 years old simply cannot accept contradictory evidence. Someone who thinks that a zygote is the same as a grown human person is never going to see abortion as anything other than murder. Someone who thinks that government is the source of social problems (as opposed to a potential solution to those problems) will never agree that affirmative action policies can benefit society.

My response to my friend was that a) I enjoy the challenge of a spirited debate, and b) I used the arguments as a whetstone to sharpen my rhetorical skills, and as a probe to find flaws and holes in my own ideas and beliefs that ought to be addressed. However, in our discussion, he raised a word that I have been chewing on ever since – axioms. I have spoken before (in years past) about the need to separate one’s evaluation of a person with the evaluation of their ideas – in a nutshell while I may disagree with your ideas, that doesn’t mean anything about how I feel about you as a person. It is of crucial importance to separate these two types of evaluation, because failure to do so is the first step towards demonizing and dehumanizing those who have different beliefs – a frightening path that can lead to serious abuses.

However, when your beliefs are axiomatic – self-evidently true with no need for evidence – such separation becomes impossible. Not only that, but no amount of contradictory evidence or reasoned argument will penetrate the force field of your confidence. And then you start to make the same mistakes over again:

Ontario is one step closer to the legalization of marijuana after the Ontario Superior Court struck down two key parts of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act that prohibit the possession and production of pot. The court declared the rules that govern medical marijuana access and the prohibitions laid out in Sections 4 and 7 of the act “constitutionally invalid and of no force and effect” on Monday, effectively paving the way for legalization…

Anti-drug action groups and others against the legalization of marijuana have said legalizing marijuana could lead to widespread use and increase crime rates.

If you’re axiomatically wedded to the mantra “drugs are bad”, then this might make sense. After all, if the force of law is the only thing keeping ordinary citizens from becoming drug addicts, then relaxing the legislation around drug prohibition would result in higher rates of drug use. However, since the only real barrier to accessing drugs is how much money you have and how badly you want the drugs, making them legal doesn’t really put a dent in use. The fact is that most people who want to use drugs are already using them – marijuana particularly.

However, this jives with the axiom, so it cannot be true. Despite the evidence we have from places like Portugal and Amsterdam (and my own city of Vancouver), we are still spending billions every year punishing drug users rather than finding ways to reduce the harms of drugs.

And we find other ways to spend billions on our axioms:

With the future of federal corporate tax cuts playing a role in the election campaign, a new study says the planned reductions will not stimulate the economy. A new report from the labour-oriented Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a non-profit research organization, suggests historic trends show businesses’ fixed capital spending has declined as a share of GDP and as a share of corporate cash flow since the early 1980s, despite a series of federal and provincial corporate tax cuts.

If you want to have any credibility among the conservative set as an economist, learn the following set of axioms: a) businesses create jobs, b) taxes reduce business revenues, and c) reduced revenue means reduced job creation. With those axioms firmly in hand, how could anyone conclude anything other than “tax cuts create jobs”? If you give businesses more money and space to innovate, they will find ways to be competitive, resulting in more jobs, right?

The problem is what happens when our axioms come up against evidence. Can we learn to abandon our world view when it is refuted by observation, or will we always insist on finding ways to square our circle? Nobody likes to admit that their beliefs are incorrect, let alone the entire way you see the world. How can we be sure that our studied skepticism isn’t just us clinging to another set of axioms? This is the true challenge of the skeptic – constantly searching ourselves to make sure that we are not just as rigid as those whose opinions we oppose.

Like this article? Follow me on Twitter!